Pygmy Marmosets and Coregulation

Well, not only will this summer be my first time doing real research, it will also be my first time regularly blogging. Hopefully both will end up being fruitful and insightful, though I’m secretly harboring doubts. If all goes well, by the end of my study I will be able to show in a rigorous and quantifiable way that pygmy marmosets engage in at least one form of coregulation.  Coregulation is a specific type of social behavior in which participants make mutual adjustments to the contingency and unpredictability of the interaction.  I first became aware of coregulation after reading Professor Barbara King’s Dynamic Dance which looked at the negotiated meaning-making that occurred between gorillas at the National Zoo in terms of gestures. Most of the work and theory related to coregulation has been focused on understanding and negotiating meaning, but it can extend to more physical interactions as well.

For instance, in football,  the wide-receiver and cornerback interaction easily fits the definition of coregulation. Each player is constantly making adjustments to the other, responding to the contingencies and possibilities in the other’s actions. Most improvised music, when performed well, is also coregulated since participants are listening and responding to each other to create something that is greater than its constituent parts.  While I’m hypothesizing that pygmy marmosets do engage in some form of coregulated behaviors, none have previously been documented thus far. In fact, very little published research has been done into the social behavior of pygmy marmosets at all, leading to some frustration in how to ground my study. Pygmy Marmosets are the smallest primate, form monogamous mating partnerships and stable family units, and have distinctive vocal calls, but most of the literature and research has focused on their vocal communications and hormonal physiology rather than social behavior.

My study will video tape the actions of a community of pygmy marmosets at the Metro Richmond Zoo. Because of the lack of literature, I’m going to spend the early portion of my study identifying activities that appear to or could produce coregulated interactions. I can then develop good operational definitions of coregulation specifically tailored to those activities and then begin to collect quantitative data. By video-taping the activities I will be able to micro-analyze the actions frame-by-frame and get a much deeper sense of how closely individuals coordinate their activities and how closely the marmosets monitor each other’s activities. In the end, I hope to have sufficient data to show conclusively that the pygmy marmosets engage in coregulated activities and ideally be able to publish the results.